Aaron Sherman worked at the Park Hyatt Chicago’s NoMI and Avenues at The Peninsula Hotel before moving to The Girl and The Goat, Stephanie Izard’s much-lauded restaurant in Chicago’s West Loop. As assistant general manager and sommelier, Sherman is responsible for the short, tightly edited list.
How is your work in wine at The Girl and the Goat different from NoMI and Avenues?
Honestly, everything about working at The Girl and The Goat is different. At Avenues we had 1400 labels and at NoMI we started with 1100 labels, later changing the list up to a tightly edited 600 labels. At The Girl and The Goat we have 192 wines on the list and I print a front and back page with the offerings before service each night.
We strive to keep the list budget friendly, but still aim to have fun with it. For instance, there is no Burgundy section but I do offer around 12 chardonnays from around the world at any given time [right now, those include Lis Neris in Fruili, Rex Hill in the Willamette Valley, a Scholium Project bottle and the Champs Royaux from William Fevre].
When folks come in to dine at The Girl and The Goat, many times they are making a leap of faith. Like, who knows what pig face tastes like? Stephanie is really pushing the boundaries with her food, and generally diners are open to suggestions, both for eating and drinking. Everyone is always asking for recommendations—we’ll sell some ’03 Lopez de Heredia instead of Chablis.
The staff and I are always discussing and tasting new wines—like the Luyt Carignan and the Luyt País. People generally don’t know about Luyt or what he is doing down in Chile, but after they speak with the staff, the price point is spot on and it flies out the door. I just can’t keep either in house.
What do people order when they don’t ask for a recommendation?
We still sell a lot of malbec. It’ll be king for another year…and no one ever has to work hard at pushing it. It is always a glass pour for me and an easy one to fly through.
The Sexual Chocolate California Red Blend is one of your top sellers and the newest success on the wine list. This requires some explanation….
This is something I wish I thought of when I was younger, but I never did. Basically it’s two guys down in Central California that wanted something inexpensive to drink and to use to pick up girls. It’s a bottle that is easy to drink and enjoy. The hand written label is totally approachable—even Bo Silliman (one of the partners) put his cell number on there and he’ll chat with you or text back. This vintage is mostly California zinfandel with a bit of petit sirah. Definitely the easiest bottle on our list to order a third one of. The staff was so into the wine when a rep first dropped it off so I put it on the list and it did really, really well. The first time I ordered in three cases, which arrived before service on Friday, and by 6 p.m. on Saturday I sold out.
Okay, so you’ve got a fun silly wine to sell with goat carpaccio. What about some more serious stuff to drink?
If one of my staff is passionate about a wine, then I never have to worry about selling through it or having it sit in the cellar. There is one server on my staff, Jazzy, he loves to sell Chateau Musar. I’m never going to worry about it, because when he is working, he’ll sell it continuously (we have the 2005 cabernet/carignan blend on the list).
We’ve got 2010 Kistler Sonoma Coast—that’s our high-end pinot—and a tiny allocation of 2011 Kosta Browne Gap’s Crown. We have our allocation of six bottles and I don’t even inventory them. I just know someone will come in and buy a bottle.
Emeritus Pinot Noir is our go-to. It is a classic restaurant pinot that folks love. We probably sell three to four cases a week. We also have a great Oregon pinot from Tony Soter. There are a few bottles on there that are more about my ego, of course (when does that not happen on a sommelier’s list?). Like this really poopy and stinky negroamaro that I just love [the 2007 Copertino]. I’m okay with being the only that will sell it. Might take me a while, but I’ll do it.
You’ve had some success with a proprietary blend for The Girl and The Goat. Tell me more about how that came to be.
Stephanie spent a lot of time out in the Pacific Northwest and is friendly with lots of folks out there. Richard Funk from Saviah Cellars blends the wine for us. We taste barrel samples together and decide on percentages and then he executes it. Loads of fun to play winemaker on a small scale, especially within the hotbed of viticulture known as Chicago! Right now we are getting in our third version, just a red this time. It plays so well with the food and has this incredibly big personality, just like Stephanie herself. In the end it is a little less than half petit verdot, a bunch of cabernet sauvignon, some grapes from specific single vineyards, with the rest of the blend rounded out by cabernet franc.